The elaborate tiered cast iron fountain by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, has graced the grounds of the Botanic Garden since 1878. It was purchased by the federal government for $6,000 after being exhibited to great acclaim along with the right hand of Liberty at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. The fountain exemplifies the fashion for civic embellishment in French Second Empire taste, while also demonstrating a virtuoso use of new technologies in public art. Rising 30 feet high above a marble pool, and originally plated in bronze, its three colossal caryatids hold aloft a large water basin, attended by tritons, reptiles, and dolphins. The garland of twelve light globes circling the rim of the basin was one of the first outdoor displays of electric lighting in the city and helped make the fountain a public attraction.
The fountain previously stood at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park before it was purchased in 1877 by the United States government for $6,000 (half of its estimated value) at the suggestion of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., who was redesigning the Capitol Grounds at the time, to Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark. It was placed on the U.S. Botanic Garden grounds, which was then situated in the center of the National Mall. During the 1927 relocation of the Botanic Garden, the fountain was dismantled and stored. In 1932, it was re-erected in its present location.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964